My Reading of ‘Nantucket’, by William Carlos Williams

Nantucket

Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow

changed by white curtains –
Smell of cleanliness –

Sunshine of late afternoon –
On the glass tray

a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which

a key is lying – And the
immaculate white bed

 

The first question I ask myself on reading this poem is: where are we?  The peaceful, small island of Nantucket immediately conjures images of summer by the sea, solitude, a place of refuge from the normal hustle and bustle of the city or everyday life.  Is this a positive image?  Nantucket could symbolise a joyful holiday spot, but equally, this could be a place of loneliness, cut off from the rest of the world.  After reading through the poem I also imagine someone to be inside a room, looking out through the window.  Who is this person?  It could be William Carlos Williams, or perhaps the reader of the poem, or maybe just an undefined person, observing this moment in this room and the view that is visible through its window.

This imagist poem, evident in its conciseness and its clear visual descriptions of the objects named in the poem, reminds me of a still life painting. The image of lavender and yellow Flowers that are framed by the window could in itself be a painting and this somehow reminds me of a colourful Cezanne.  I very much feel a sense of peace in the moment around which this poem is centred; the observer in the room is looking out through the window, the Sunshine of late afternoon beams into the room, nothing moves and the immaculate bed awaits.

William Carlos Williams plays with our senses throughout this poem; the colours of the Flowers are a spectacle for our sight, we can almost smell the smell of cleanliness ourselves, feel the warmth of the Sunshine, hear the silence and even taste the drink inside the glass pitcher.  The image that William Carlos Williams offers us in this poem evolves as he makes use of our senses.

My interpretation of this poem is that it does not emote positive feelings.  If one were to read this as a meta-poem, and assume that the observer standing in this room is William Carlos Williams, we might ascertain that he feels in some way entrapped in this room which is devoid of life; the white curtains offer a paradox next to the vivacity of the colourful Flowers outside, the tumbler turned down emphasises that it is unused and perhaps even evokes the image of death, and the immaculate bed also seems to lack any sort of life or joy.  The key, which lies On the glass tray, further supports the idea of being trapped in this room.  Does Williams feel locked in? Locked into this room as he is locked into his job as a physician when his passion really lies in writing poetry?  The key is lying, in the sense of the imagist poem, clearly points to the obvious image of the key resting On the glass tray, but the key is lying could also mean metaphorically the key is lying; keys typically represent freedom, the freedom to choose to go outside or to stay in and the freedom to privacy.  But perhaps this key is lying because Williams does not have this choice – he is locked into his life.  Perhaps this room is, in fact, a hospital room, as emphasised by the white curtains, smell of cleanliness And the immaculate bed

Outside, Williams sees colour and Sunshine, life and warmth.  But in this cold, lifeless room, he feels only a sense of entrapment.  The closest thing to the freedom of the outside world that this room can give him is the reflection of it that appears in the glass tray, glass pitcher and tumbler.

The lack of any punctuation whatsoever at the end of this poem perhaps signals some kind of hope for Williams; he is leaving the possibility there for further imagery, a ‘to be continued’ kind of ending.

 

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